Local Craft Beers
Keeping up with the North Shore’s thirst for craft beers is quickly becoming a full-time job for these brewers.
Photo by Doug Levy
By all accounts, Bent Water Brewing Co.’s first year was a pretty remarkable one. In November 2015, when it released its first batch of beer, it had 16 accounts and two employees. A year later, it was in 400 retailers and restaurants around the North Shore, with more than 20 employees at its Lynn brewery and taproom. Now the company has its sights set on selling its unique brews in Boston, but there is just one problem—it doesn’t have enough beer. Yet.
Co-owner Aaron Reames says the brewery is designed to produce a few year-round staple beers, like its popular hoppy Thunder Funk IPA and the piney, toffee-flavored Viskiss Pale Ale, alongside a raft of experimental brews under its X-Series label and one-offs that are available only in the tap room.
“We like playing,” Reames says. “It’s built into our brewery,” which has the flexibility to brew just five gallons to 45 barrels at once.
“We want to have a beer for anyone who wants one, be it a beer geek, a wine drinker, a whisky drinker, or someone who likes American-style lager,” adds Reames’ partner and head brewer John Erik Strom. To that end, in their first year, Reames and Strom crafted some 46 different brews, from beet beers using tubers from The Food Project in Lynn to the crazy Trofast Aquavit Ale, redolent of caraway and citrus and tasting for all the world like its namesake Scandinavian spirit.
To continue on this dual track while slaking thirst to the south, Bent Water will have to expand capacity at its site just off the Lynn-way—and has plans for doing just that. Inspired by the growth of New England craft brewers like Allagash in Maine, Reames and Strom would like to eventually expand from the company’s current 2,000 barrels annually to one day producing 90,000 barrels.
That’s a lofty goal. While not everyone in the area is thinking quite that big, many North Shore craft brewers are seeking to grow their capacity. When you’re selling batches from kitchens and basements and tiny taprooms, a fierce local following can develop fast, as beer aficionados pull their pints from as close to home as possible. And word quickly travels. But space constraints and unwillingness to compromise on quality mean that there isn’t always enough beer to go around.
Seems like a nice problem to have, right? “A lot of people say that,” says Steve Sanderson, founder and brewer at RiverWalk Brewing Co., perhaps a bit ruefully. Especially since the Newburyport company started to offer beer in cans last spring—and found their Storm Door Porter named among the best seasonal beers in the country in 2016 by Paste magazine—beer has been flying out the door as fast as they can brew it. Alongside staple year-round brews like its IPA and Uncle Bob’s English-style Session Ale, it wants to produce more of its unique naturally flavored recipes like Unveiled, a spicy pink ale made with peppercorns and hibiscus.
But finding the right location to expand hasn’t been easy. While it had offers to move outside the area, Riverwalk wanted to stay in Newburyport.
“We love Newburyport very much,” says Dave Smith, the brewery’s director of marketing. “We want to help build the community that has supported us.”
Fortunately, they recently found just the right opportunity at the end of the Port City’s Rail Trail. This spring, RiverWalk plans to open in a 20,000-square-foot space, with its own canning line (it currently uses a mobile cannery) and a 3,000-square-foot taproom, and beer garden, next door to MetroRock on Parker Street.
“It’s a big move for us,” Sanderson says. “It will let people get a lot closer to our process,” Sanderson adds, and the move will enable the brewery to continue to expand offerings—experimenting with a variety of natural flavors like its vanilla-inflected Storm Door, soon to become a staple year-round—while keeping production up on favorites.
Just down the road in Beverly, Old Planters Brewing Co. isn’t necessarily looking to experiment with new flavors; right now it’s concentrating on delivering the freshest, hoppiest beer it can.
“We aren’t trying to paint the rainbow,” says Matt Sullivan, who owns Old Planters with childhood friend Ben Garry. “We have a niche focus on what we like to drink—pale, hoppy beers.” It turns out that their are lots of people focused on savoring their aromatic brews—so much so that they quickly outgrew their basement nanobrewery launched in 2015, renting space at Mercury Brewing Co. in Ipswich.
“You can’t put something on the market and then have it just disappear,” says Sullivan.
Their most popular seller, Crop Rotation, quickly hit the sweet spot in the IPA craze, with a hoppy, grassy aroma “you can smell from 15 feet away,” Garry says. Already, the team has gone from a barrel a month up to 30 barrels a month, and their taps are turning up at restaurants around the North Shore.
“We still have the giddiness of seeing our beer on tap [in restaurants],” Garry says with a laugh. As their fan base grows, the pair has smaller aspirations than other fast-track breweries on the North Shore. “We have no interest in expanding outside of Massachusetts at this point,” Sullivan says. In fact, they’d just be happy with their own tap room—as would their fans.
Bent Water Brewing Co. & Taproom
180 Commercial St.
Old Planters Brewing Co.
Riverwalk Brewing Co.
3 Graf Road, Unit 15